The courtroom is a favorite setting of filmmakers. It’s easy to see why: by the time litigation has been reached you have a high-stakes situation on your hands.
Real lawyers may know the profession as something less-than-cinematic. But in a movie, it’s easy to show the boring parts by showing the beleaguered protagonist hard at work.
Throw in the occasional scene filmed with wacky hijinks or a lawyer growing as a person, and you have a hit.
But what films do the genre best? Here are our choices, from wacky comedies to gripping thrillers.
Our 5 Best Lawyer Movies
My Cousin Vinny
Whether you’re a homicide prosecutor or a personal injury lawyer, you know a courtroom is a serious place. That’s what makes it so annoying to watch legal comedies a la Liar Liar that make the court room look like a great place to try your next improv routine.
The only legal comedy that shows you that a real life judge will not “yes and’ anybody is the fish-out-of-water film My Cousin Vinny. Without giving too many of the jokes away, this film includes Joe Pesci’s character being arrested for contempt precisely because of the hijinks that win trials in most films.
Subversion of Hollywood courtroom schtick is precisely what makes this one of the best lawyer movies for actual lawyers.
Erin Brockovich is Rocky for attorneys.
In spite of the film’s depressing lack of epilogue, it does make it abundantly clear that good lawyers can have an incredibly positive impact on people’s lives.
In this film, Julia Roberts plays a paralegal that defends a small-town against the pollution cover-up of a massive corporation. While the reality may have been a bit more complicated, the film represents the real and inspiring possibility that lawyers can change lives.
12 Angry Men
Plenty of films deal with lawyers and judges, but very few deal with juries. This is odd, considering the jury is the group actually responsible for deciding innocence and guilt.
12 Angry Men is fascinating because it heightens the persuasion-based drama we expect from the best lawyer movies. Only instead of focusing on the attorneys, it focuses on the drama between members of the jury with opposing ideological views.
A Few Good Men
Best known for Jack Nicholson’s famous “you can’t handle the truth!” speech, this film actually offers so much more than just great quotes. At its core, it offers a compelling story of military law and how we balance the limits of power with the necessity for authority.
While Nicholson’s character is magnetic and inspires a twisted fascination from the viewer, it’s Tom Cruise’s character that is the real moral and intellectual balance of the film. What does it mean to be an authority constraining authority? This film answers that question.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Based on the literary classic, this civil rights film is considered one of the best of all time for a good reason. It deals with the harsh realities of the courtroom beside the moral awakening of growing up. And all of this with a statement that rings true today: the right side of history may be a lonely place, but it’s a place worth standing.
Watch More Movies
One of the best things about being a film buff is that there’s always one more flick to watch. And when you’ve gotten through these courtroom dramas, you should check out some of the great movies we have available for download.
Put some popcorn in the microwave, grab a glass of your favorite beverage and enjoy!